This crunchy thin arepita is a popular side dish sold at Tropical Spanish Restaurant on West 157th Street and East Morgan Place.
Photos by Sandra E. García
Crispy, crunchy on the outside, with a soft and tender center – that's just how arepitas are being served and sold on West 157th Street and Broadway at Tropical Spanish Restaurant.
The first thing that draws you in as you near the storefront restaurant is the wafting fragrance of garlic in the air. And then as you walk in, it's the large glass display counter, typical for a luncheonette, that catches your eye with a dazzling array of meats, rices, and stews.
Tropical Spanish, as its name aptly indicates, serves a host of traditional Latin Caribbean plates, including deep vats filled with stewed meat dishes, steaming rice and beans, and thick cuts of rotisserie and oven-baked chicken – all main dishes sure to satisfy.
But the restaurant's fastest-selling dish, and arguably its most popular, is in fact a side.
"We set out the arepitas at 11 a.m. and by 1 p.m., we have none left," said Felix Tineo, Tropical Spanish's restaurant manager. "We make over 25 arepitas a day, we sell them immediately. It's because of our seasoning."
The restaurant, which has been open for 6 years, didn't always serve the arepitas.
Four years ago, the head chef made a version of the arepitas sold in the Dominican Republic.
Things have never been the same.
Arepitas are typically small savory patties, made of corn, or tubers such as potatoes or yucca, as are the ones at Tropical Spanish. Intended as a light snack, or an accompaniment to a larger meal, the arepitas are characteristic of the on-the-go, snack foods that are popular in the Dominican Republic.
Now it seems that all who visit this restaurant, upon trying one arepita or two, leave craving the round, crunchy, scrumptious treat.
"To make them, you need eggs, ground garlic, salt, sugar, anise, and butter, you mix the concoction [together with the ground yucca] until all ingredients are mixed well. And afterwards, you fry small ladlefuls in low heat in a frying pan, filled with oil so that the entire patty can be fried completely," explained Tineo.
He is the one who prepares the arepitas daily, directly after opening up and prepping for breakfast service.
The staple is not intended to be a meal itself, but is instead meant as a side, as one might enjoy a few French fries or potato latke.
Still, Tineo admits that many find it hard to have just one.
"Some people buy them with their lunch, others order two at a time, or four at a time, sometimes up to five at a time just to eat them on their own," he said.
And as Tineo points out, while the snack originated in the Dominican Republic, Tropical Spanish has taken some license with the original.
."In Santo Domingo, they don't make them like we do," said Tineo. "Here our arepitas are round and flat; over there the arepitas are usually made into a stick or a ball."
Despite the difference in size and shape from its point of origin, the arepita at Tropical Spanish has proven it can more than hold its own.
The savory snack is a flaky, golden orb that is generously seasoned with garlic and flecked with the aromatic taste of anise.
Whether you enjoy it alongside a plate of roast chicken or take to dipping it into a small pool of rich bean sauce, you will be glad you decided to try El Alto's version of the New World arepita, Tropical Spanish style.
Ask for Felix – and just make sure you get there before 1 p.m.
Tropical Spanish Restaurant
3771 Broadway (near West 157th Street)
New York, NY 10032